Catch a Rising Star: 8 San Francisco Chefs to Watch

San Francisco has more than its fair share of talented chefs. But while some bask in the limelight, others don’t always receive the accolades they deserve. These are just a few of the chefs that have caught our attention, in particular for their focus on either fresh produce or seafood. Some are in new roles and others are quietly continuing to make significant creative contributions at their respective restaurants. Here are San Francisco chefs to watch – and dine with.

Angela Salvatore, Executive Pastry Chef, Waterbar

up and coming san francisco chefs

Angela Salvatore grew up in the suburbs of Chicago watching her dad and grandfather working the woks at her grandparent’s Chinese restaurant while the ladies cut vegetables and packed orders. After a broadcast journalism degree and a foray into television production overseas, she craved a more hands-on artistic pursuit. In 2005, she moved to Napa Valley to attend the baking and pastry program at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. Upon graduation, she worked at Model Bakery. She then moved to San Francisco to work for Kara’s Cupcakes. In 2008, Salvatore joined Loretta Keller and Charles Phan’s team to open The Moss Room restaurant and Academy Café at the California Academy of Sciences. Salvatore took the helm as executive pastry chef in 2010. Excited by the prospect of working with the legendary Emily Luchetti, Angela joined the Waterbar team as pastry chef in 2012.

“My influences come from the Bay Area. The art, culture, and landscape influence the aesthetics and geography, and myriad ethnicities influence the flavors. My style leans toward straightforward because we are spoiled by California’s bountiful produce, and when you cook with the most seasonal, ripe ingredients, those items speak for themselves without needing much adulteration. I try to use an artist’s eye for those final strokes of presentation. At the end of the day, dessert is simple. It’s merely a punctuation mark at the end of a meal.”

Make a reservation at Waterbar.

John Griffiths, Executive Chef, Bluestem Brasserie

up and coming san francisco chefs

Griffiths studied at Schoolcraft College in Michigan; focusing on culinary arts, he then began working with James Beard Award-winning chef Takashi Yaghashi at Tribute Restaurant in Farmington Hills. From there, John spent time in different kitchens across the country including as opening executive chef at Larry Forgione’s legendary An American Place in St. Louis. In early 2013, he moved to Sacramento to lead The Kitchen Restaurant. John moved to the Bay Area in 2014 to join the team at The Advocate in Berkley as the opening executive chef before taking over as executive chef at Bluestem Brasserie in 2016.

“When creating the menu at Bluestem, I wanted to embrace a broader Mediterranean palate with some emphasis on vegetable cookery that supports and interplays with a variety of local meats and seafood while not losing sight of our urban location and French heritage of a brasserie. The ingredients drive each component and elevate the entire dish or protein that’s added to it. We are lucky to live in California and have access to local and unique ingredients.”

Make a reservation at Bluestem Brasserie.

Kris Toliao, Executive Chef, Cassava

up and coming san francisco chefs

Born in San Francisco, Kris moved to the Philippines at age of 2, came back to Los Angeles at age of 7, and grew up in Los Angeles and Orange County. He graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Pasadena in 2003 and then worked under Julian Baker at Bicé, Dominic Crenn at Manhattan Country Club, Sumant Pardal at Tiger Lily and then the Beverly Hills Hotel. He moved to San Francisco in 2008 to join Dominiqu Crenn as opening sous chef at Lucé at InterContinental Hotel. In 2010, he staged at Kikunoi in Akasaka, a 2 Michelin-starred kaiseki restaurant. He opened Cassava in 2012.

“I am influenced by Dominique Crenn, and her delicate seasonal flavors from her native Brittany, her way with vegetables and seafood. From Pardal, I learned about Indian spices and combination flavors. From Kikunoi, I delved deeper into vegetable cooking, Japanese cooking techniques, and a style of kitchen operation of no back-/front-of-house separation.”

Make a reservation Cassava.

Rachel Orner, formerly Chef di Cuisine, Delfina

up and coming san francisco chefs

Rachel Orner is a Pennsylvania native who began her culinary career early in life. She was driven into the kitchen by a passion for cooking and her mother’s meals that left something to be desired in the taste and flavor department. She started by making family dinners and then went on to major in Culinary Science at Drexel University, cooking in kitchens across Pennsylvania for the next three years. In fall of 2011, Rachel moved to San Francisco.

“My culinary philosophy is that the best ingredients make the best dishes. I frequent the farmer’s market to select the best of the best. While many of the dishes I cook are traditional, I’m not afraid to use and explore new cooking methods. I believe the best inputs (ingredients, cooking techniques, people) create the best outputs (dishes.) My influences are traditional Italian cooking, and, especially, my father. My dad traveled the world for work and would come home and cook what he ate while abroad. He would experiment and push his kids outside of their culinary comfort zone. That sense of curiosity and exploration has stuck with me.”

Make a reservation at Delfina.

Carl Foronda, Executive Chef, 1760

up and coming san francisco chefs

Foronda was raised in San Francisco and Vallejo. He followed his passion and graduated from the CA Culinary Academy in 2004. Carl worked under Kelly Degala and Arnold Pulido at Va de Vi in 2007. He was sous chef at Sushi Ran from 2009, working under the tutelage of Chef Scott Whitman and Yoshi Tome before joining 1760. He started at 1760 as sous chef and became executive chef in 2015.

“Most of the time, my main influence is food itself, particularly how a certain ingredient is used in different places in the world, and how it is used by different people. I always cook when there is a certain overload of emotion, but the results are always different and very particular to how I feel. I would describe my cooking style as very West Coast. Whatever the Pacific Ocean touches breathes life into my style. I think the dishes that reflect me the most are my crudos, as well as my Brussels sprouts with fish sauce-lime emulsion and pepitas.”

Make a reservation at 1760.

Rebecca Boice, Chef de Cuisine, Zuni Café

up and coming san francisco chefs

Chef Rebecca was born and raised in California.  After completing her B.A. in psychology at UC Santa Cruz, she moved to San Francisco planning to apply for graduate school. Rebecca’s first job in the city was in radio with the KNBR sales department. In 2002, after many meals cooked for friends and family, she decided to pursue cooking as a career. Rebecca applied for a job on the pantry station at Zuni Cafe — and graduate school never happened. For the next 10 years, Rebecca worked and learned a philosophy, a way of thinking about cooking, and how run a professional kitchen from Judy Rodgers and Gilbert Pilgram. Rebecca’s cooking is also informed by her experience as executive chef at TOAST Kitchen + Bar in Oakland, extensive travel at home and abroad, and family recipes.

“As a chef, I always seem to gravitate toward comforting and humble dishes that are executed with an eye on the little details. Our signature dish at Zuni is the wood-oven roasted chicken with bread salad. The chicken is a timeless and satisfying dish developed by Judy Rodgers.  Much of what I do now on our daily changing dishes plays off of that. A favorite dish I have brought into the fold has been my grandmother’s meatball recipe, simmered in a simple tomato sauce. In the summer, we garnish it with a salad of fresh herbs and arugula plus some shavings of pecorino. In the winter, they are served over warm polenta with sautéed greens. My hope is when folks finish their meal at Zuni they come away feeling happily sated.”

Make a reservation at Zuni Cafe.

Jason Pringle, Executive Chef, Navio

up and coming san francisco chefs

Jason Pringle was born in San Bernardino and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. For the past three years, Pringle held the position of executive chef at Michelin-starred Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne in Miami. Prior to moving to the East Coast to become sous chef at Café Boulud, Pringle worked in some of the most prestigious kitchens in San Francisco. After a two-year stint at Pat Kuleto’s Epic Roasthouse, Pringle was tapped as executive sous chef at Aqua. He spent more than five years there, working under both Michael Mina and Laurent Manrique, eventually being promoted to executive chef.

“The chefs I’ve worked for, including Daniel Boulud, Laurent Manrique, and Peter Armellino, have all heavily influenced my career. They’ve helped me create my own style of cuisine based on classic French cooking – but with a modern American twist. I’d hesitate to call any one dish a ‘signature dish’ — however, the foraged agnolotti has been one of my favorites since taking the helm at Navio. I use wild ingredients that grow immediately outside of the restaurant. In the spring, I also loved our local king salmon with sorrel and smoked onion. It’s my twist on a French classic.”

Make a reservation at Navio.

Tara Lewis, Corporate Pastry Chef, Hi Neighbor Restaurant Group (Trestle)

up and coming san francisco chefs

Tara Lewis attended a vocational high school where she participated in culinary classes and started working in kitchens at 15 years old.  Following college, she moved to New York where she studied at The Culinary Institute of America. In 2013, Tara landed at RN74 in San Francisco, and quickly became the lead pastry cook at Michelin-starred Michael Mina. In 2014, she started at Hi Neighbor Restaurant Group where she is now corporate pastry chef, responsible for production, recipe testing, menu design, and the celebrated pastry programs at restaurants including Stones Throw, Trestle, and Corridor.

“In cooking, I’ve been inspired by a lot of people, mostly savory chefs ranging from Grant Achatz to Alice Waters. But my personal mentors have been Stephen Colucchi and Lincoln Carson. Stephen taught me the importance of the fundamentals and re-instilled what I had learned at the CIA. He showed me new paths with basic recipes that could be manipulated with a little passion and brain work. Lincoln, on the other hand, showed me how to create food through different chemical reactions when added to ingredients as well as pushing boundaries of pastry that I never knew existed. He also presented an elegant level of plating and interesting flavor combinations, opening up my palate to new things.”

Make a reservation at Trestle.

Have you dined with any of these San Francisco chefs to watch? Share your experiences with us here or over on FacebookG+InstagramPinterest, or Twitter. And, remember to snap + share your #dishpics with us on Instagram for a chance to win in our weekly giveaway.

Amy Sherman is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, blogger, and cookbook author. She is the publisher of the food blog Cooking with Amy. She currently contributes to numerous online publications including Food Network, Fodor’s and Refinery 29 and never says no to a warm donut. Follow her @cookingwithamy.

Photo credits: Wes Rowe (Carl Foronda); Albert Law/Porkbelly Studios (Kris Toliao).